I have been planning to write a review of Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman, since I first read it several months ago. But I kept putting it off. I think I'm afraid that I won't do justice to this amazing book.
In Seraphina's world, humans and dragons live in an uneasy truce. Fear and distrust runs high on both sides, and interaction between the two is strictly limited. Seraphina is a half-breed who will never belong in either world. In fact, dragons find the very idea of her existence disgusting, and humans would kill her if they discovered her secret. Though she lives in fear of discovery, she refuses to hide away. A talented musician, she becomes the assistant to the court composer shortly before the arrival of the dragons' leader for a state visit celebrating the 40th anniversary of the peace treaty.
Hartman provides an original take on dragons. In their natural form, they do not feel any emotion. However, they can take on human form, a transformation that opens them to human feelings. They are simultaneously drawn to human art and repulsed by the emotion behind it. Dragons who spend too much time in human form become suspected of being contaminated by emotions. The discomfort with the idea of emotion leads to misunderstandings and sometimes amusing missteps in social interaction. Early in the book, Seraphina's music tutor, a dragon, is distressed by the approach of a young girl.
"I'm attracting small children," Orma muttered, twisting his hat in his hands. "Shoo it away, will you?"
Nor are humans immune to prejudice and misunderstanding. Their religion teaches that dragons have no souls. Gangs of thugs, calling themselves the Sons of Saint Ogdo, use that belief as an excuse to attack dragons in the city. As tensions increase during the buildup to the treaty anniversary celebrations, a member of the royal family is murdered in circumstances that suggest the killer is a dragon. Seraphina's unique position between the two races may be the key to preventing another devastating war.
I could go on and on listing the things I love about this book from the medieval references to Seraphina's unique "mental garden" where she works to reconcile the conflicting mental traits of her dragon and human natures. This is an excellent work of fantasy. But it is so much more than that. There are elements of intrigue worthy of a spy novel, a murder mystery to be solved and even a small touch of romance. Hartman's story explores themes of honesty, religious intolerance, and self-acceptance. While Seraphina is a must-read for fantasy lovers, especially fans of Anne McCaffrey, others who love well-crafted stories with interesting characters should also give it a chance.
I suspect that I have fallen short of conveying how good this book is. I just hope that I've made you curious enough to give it chance.